When you’re dealing with a discipline issue, it’s important to understand the roles of various decision-makers in a school community. Read on for a glimpse of who’s got the power and what kinds of decisions they make.

The school’s role in discipline decisions

Many issues of school safety and discipline are best addressed at the school level. Consequences for student misbehavior — short of actions requiring mandatory expulsion — generally vary from school to school. Schools must provide written notice of school rules and discipline procedures to students and parents.

State law requires that every school have a Comprehensive School Safety Plan. The plan, which should be developed by the School Site Council and reviewed annually, should include standards for student conduct as well as procedures for everything from natural disasters to bomb threats.

The school district’s role in discipline decisions

The district’s governing board must prescribe discipline rules, consistent with state and federal law, for the schools under its jurisdiction. Boards must also adopt policies and regulations regarding sexual harassment and a variety of other safety issues.

Zero tolerance is state law

By law, schools in California are required to recommend students for expulsion who have:

  • Possessed, sold or furnished a firearm
  • Brandished a knife at another person
  • Sold a controlled substance (such as a drug)
  • Committed or attempted to commit sexual assault or sexual battery

Upon finding that a student presents a continuing danger to other students or that other means of correction have failed or are not feasible, schools in California should recommend for expulsion students who have:

  • Caused serious physical injury to another person (except in self-defense)
  • Possessed any knife, explosive or other dangerous object
  • Unlawfully possessed any controlled substance (except the first offense for possession of less than an ounce of marijuana)
  • Committed robbery or extortion

The above lists cover incidents that occur on school grounds, going to and from school, and during lunch and at school-sponsored activities. Schools can suspend or expel students for various other offenses, as long as the students’ actions relate to school attendance or school activities.

When a student is recommended for expulsion, the school board has the final decision. While zero-tolerance laws mandate that school districts recommend students for expulsion for certain offenses, a board has the power to suspend expulsions and set specific requirements, such as assigning the student to a specific school, class or program deemed appropriate for the rehabilitation of the student. If the student subsequently commits any “suspendable” or “expellable” offense, or violates any of the district’s own rules and regulations, then the governing board may reinstate the expulsion.

The County Office of Education’s role in discipline decisions

State law requires districts and county offices to provide off-site educational services to expelled students. County offices usually run modified school programs, known as community day schools, for students who have been expelled or convicted of crimes.

The role of the Education Code and other laws in discipline decisions

The Ed Code requires that schools report students to law enforcement agencies in specified situations. This includes possession or use of weapons or controlled substances, as well as incidents in which a student attacks, assaults or menaces any school employee.

Other key influences on discipline decisions

To keep students safe, schools must depend heavily on the cooperation of parents and the larger community including:

  • Law enforcement agencies. In some communities, police departments, juvenile courts, city governments and schools have established partnerships to improve school and community safety. Working together, they can be very effective at addressing issues of truancy and youth crime. For example, strategies such as drug-free zones around schools can help keep students safe.
  • Parents and communities. Working together, parents and schools can give students consistent messages about acceptable school behavior. They can also combine forces to make sure students have constructive activities after school.